Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei,
tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Nau mai, haere mai rā ki te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Several months ago I sat next to the Chief Justice at a dinner in Honour of the US Chief Justice and we agreed then that we should host a dinner for senior members of the Judiciary. It’s taken us a while to find a suitable date, but David and I are delighted to have you all here this evening.
After one year in this role, I can say that I have a new appreciation of and respect for New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. It has been a privilege for me to play a role in the Parliamentary and legislative process and to preside over regular meetings of the Executive Council.
When the occasion arises, I encourage New Zealanders to visit Government House, to go and see Parliament in action, to visit the Supreme Court, and to see our constitutional documents housed in the wonderful new He Tohu exhibition at the National Library – because I think it is important for our citizens to understand and appreciate how our constitutional arrangements have evolved and operate today.
There has been a great deal of interest in the media lately about our constitutional arrangments, and in particular about the process of government formation.
Needless to say, I will refrain from any further comment on the outcomes of the current deliberations. I, too, am waiting for the phone to ring.
What I do want to speak about tonight is diversity. Since I took on this role, I have spoken on this subject frequently, because it is one of my strategic priorities.
I know that many of you were present – indeed Dame Sian presided – at my swearing in, where I outlined the four areas I proposed to prioritise in my community engagement role. They are creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership.
Looking back over the past year I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to pursue and reinforce the importance of each of these priorities for the future prosperity of our country and wellbeing of our people. But the focus I have been asked most frequently to speak about is diversity. I have been delighted to do so. I start from the principle that it is only when a country empowers all of its people, that every bit of potential is unlocked.
Unsurprisingly, as just the third female Governor General (out of 21 or 36 if you include the Governors before them) In speaking about diversity, I have paid particular attention to gender, noting that when it comes to business, research consistently affirms that businesses with greater gender diversity are more likely to reap the benefits of increased profitability and a healthier workplace culture.
I expect that I’m preaching to the converted tonight on this topic. As Dame Susan said in a speech in 2010, diversity on the Bench ensures that courts are representatives of the societies they serve, and a more diverse bench also signals our society’s commitment to equality.
The Supreme Court marked an important milestone in June of this year when it sat with a bench of three women and two men: the first time in New Zealand’s history that the country’s highest court has sat with a majority of women on the full bench.
New Zealanders can be proud that our highest court is leading the way among the courts of other similar jurisdictions in terms of gender diversity.
The fact that the Supreme Court now has a majority of women sends an important signal in the move towards true gender equality in our legal profession and justice system. But we still have a fair way to go, with females currently comprising only one third of our total judiciary. That’s not entirely surprising when fewer than 20% of the partners in our major law firms are women – even after over a quarter of a century in which females have comprised a majority of law graduates in every year.
Frankly, gender diversity should be relatively easy to achieve. We have even further to go in many areas to achieve diversity and inclusiveness that reflects our modern society.
In August this year, Lady Hale, the President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, gave a speech in which she reflected on the constitutional characteristics of the judiciary in a democratic state.
Lady Hale suggested that the aim should be a judiciary possessing four main virtues: it would be independent; incorruptible; of high quality; and diverse.
She described diversity as the “new kid on the block”, noting that it has only been seen as a desirable, even a necessary, characteristic of the judiciary in the United Kingdom in this century.
Reflections on the importance of diversity also feature in the final report of the Lammy Review, which will be familiar to many of you.
The report examines the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the UK Criminal Justice System, and it features the experience of New Zealand’s Rangatahi Courts as one of its case studies.
The recommendations set out in the Lammy report include an exhortation to the justice system to take major steps to increase diversity and transparency.
David Lammy described the need for a step change in the diversity of the judiciary in order to build trust and respect for the rule of law. He noted that until this is achieved, there will continue to be a pervasive sense of ‘them and us’ among black, Asian and minority ethnic defendants.
We are familiar with framing diversity in terms of fairness and improved decision-making, but perhaps less familiar with the notion of diversity as a way of building trust.
The Lammy report suggests that trust in impartial decisions rests not just in the constitutional independence of the judiciary, but also on the connection between the courts and the communities they serve. Diversity may be just one factor in building those connections – but it is an important and visible factor.
Diversity doesn’t start at the top, whether in the boardroom or the courtroom – it is a systemic issue. We can’t hope for sustained diversity at senior levels without what I often hear referred to as a diversity ‘pipeline’.
I know that these are issues that are being considered not just by you as judges, but by members of the profession, and educators and law students throughout New Zealand.
I do not purport to have the answers, but I applaud the work that is being done to champion the issues and lead by example.
To conclude, on behalf of all New Zealanders, I thank you for the invaluable work you do on our behalf.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa - please enjoy the hospitality of Government House.